August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day, the perfect time to understand that the opioid crisis affects people from all walks of life and backgrounds.
Every day, more than 130 people die from opioid overdose. Opioid overdose has now surpassed auto crashes as a leading cause of death for Americans. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Most of these deaths are preventable.
What stops people from getting the help they need? Stigma and shame surrounding addiction keep us from addressing this epidemic like we do other public health issues, such as healthy eating and cold prevention. Fighting addiction stigma begins with education and understanding. Here are four quick facts about opioid addiction:
Addiction is a disease, not a failure of willpower.
When someone you love is struggling with addiction, it’s easy to wonder why they can’t just stop. Especially if you’ve personally tried drugs or alcohol and not been affected by them too much. Both the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine define addiction as a chronic disease that changes the brain, affected by behavioral, environmental, and biological factors.
The good news about this? Like any other medical ailment, treatment is available for all addiction, including opioid addiction. Workit Health offers medication & online therapy to make recovery from opioid addiction less painful than traditional systems of care. Learn more about how our programs work.
2. Prescription opioid painkillers are commonly used, and create risk for addiction.
If you receive prescription painkillers, take them as prescribed and don’t share them with friends or family. Dispose of any unused medications at medication disposal sites. Why is this important? Most adolescents who misuse prescription pain relievers are given them for free by a friend or relative, and four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers.
This doesn’t mean that those struggling with chronic pain need to go without their medication, or that anyone who takes prescription opioids after surgery will develop an addiction. It means we need to understand the risks of opioid medications, just as we do with alcohol and other substances. If you are taking prescription opioids and find yourself taking more than prescribed, or obsessing about your next dose, talk with your doctor or sign up for a Workit program for counseling support.
3. Medication to treat opioid addiction works.
All this information can seem scary, but if you’re struggling with opioid addiction there are now FDA-approved medications to not only help through withdrawal, but also stabilize you on the path to long-term recovery. You don’t have to suffer through a cold turkey detox or get incredibly sick before getting better. Studies show that medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone can reduce cravings and reduce risk of relapse and overdose. If you’re struggling, reach out to a health professional — help is available.
4. Anyone can recognize an opioid overdose.
Learning to recognize the signs of opioid overdose can help you save a life.
Signs of opioid overdose:
Awake, but cannot speak.
Slow heartbeat and pulse.
Slow breathing or not breathing.
Blue lips and/or fingernails.
Gurgling, snoring, or raspy breathing.
If you ever suspect an overdose has occurred, the first thing you need to do is call 911. If you or someone you love misuses opioids, combines them with other sedating medications, or has been diagnosed with opioid use disorder, the Surgeon General recommends carrying naloxone. Naloxone is an overdose antidote with can temporarily stop the life-threatening symptoms of overdose.
Considering topics like overdose and addiction can feel scary — but knowledge can remove the fear, and this is the goal of Overdose Day. The Surgeon General explains, “The first step is understanding that opioid use disorder is a chronic but treatable brain disease, and not a moral failing or character flaw. Like many other chronic medical conditions, opioid use disorder is both treatable, and in many cases, preventable.”